I totally understand that this movie is meant to make you understand the Jewish experience and their struggle to find a homeland. The long, violent history between religions and cultures, especially in the Middle East is something that still puzzles me. As an atheist who loves humans and considers our differences to be what makes us beautiful, it’s hard to wrap my head around why the idea of faith, something supposedly rooted in love, has been at the heart of so much evil. This movie did little to clarify that for me.
What Natalie Portman’s directorial debut did do, was leave me feeling sad. The whole movie, is just so melancholy. Now, part of that is so you understand that her character comes from a rich background, a life of servants and what is referred to as romantic melancholy but is hit with the realities of life and how deep a person’s hatred can go. These dark realizations start to erase the romantic side of things and we watch her fall deep into despair and depression. No, correction, you are brought along for the ride. Being an amazing actress, and admittedly a damn good director, she absolutely brings the audience into the movie. The problem is that the world you are submerged in, is full of despair, war, injustice, and longing. It at times can literally feel emotionally draining. When the credits come up at what was an extremely dry ending with no real resolution, the audience literally sat there in silence, you could feel how much we had all been affected by this movie. You actually needed a minute to pull yourself out of the deep, pit of sorrow you just spent 90 minutes slowly melting to the bottom of.
While there are plenty of important political undertones here and life lessons being passed from Fania, author Amos Oz’s mother portrayed by Portman, there is also plenty of misery. That being said, it doesn’t make this a bad film by any means. In a way, it’s actually quite beautiful in the way that it is able to immerse you in emotion. While we do see examples of love in the sense that Amos clearly idolizes his parents and relishes in their very romantic and affectionate connection as well as Fania’s love of her faith and what she looks at as the “Land of Milk and Honey”, we are given far more darkness for the bulk of the film. When Fania does start to sink deep into despair, her husband Arieh, played by Gilad Kahana, seems somewhat annoyed, honestly, it’s hard to tell if he feels like it’s all in her head or if it’s due to him feeling helpless and unable to do anything for her. Amos on the other hand desperately wants to be there for her and grows more and more concerned. Throughout the movie it is Amos who consistently supports his mother, even comforting her after her close friend is killed during riots. Despite Arieh laying right next to his clearly distraught wife, it is Amos who is there to hold her.
While we see the movie from Amos’ perspective, a young boy who has not given up hope and is clearly wise beyond his years, it is Fania and her emotions that we feel throughout the film. Slow moving yet poignant, A Tale of Love and Darkness is the portrait of a woman full of life and passion, who slowly has it drained from her not only through the suffering that her and many European Jewish people dealt with during the World War II era, but through her personal relationships as well, struggling to please the typical overbearing, hard to please, mother in law, as well as her own mother who comes for a visit only to tell her how disappointed she is with her. We watch as a vibrant, joyous young Natalie Portman descends into a deep depression. Overall it’s a well-acted, well written, and beautifully directed film, Portman should be proud. However, it’s not an easy watch, but sometimes we have to go out of our comfort zone and need more than a laugh filled comedy or action packed comic book adaptation. Sometimes you need see love and darkness and how they can affect us personally and as a people.